Great white sharks, like humans, need an active and stimulating lifestyle. If restrained they simply cannot thrive. Ideally, we can offer an environment when man and shark can coexist, and this amazing animal can continue to hunt, migrate and reproduce in the wild.
Mike Rutzen dives uprotected with great white shark. This Friday, he comes to Norway to tell about it – and why we need to protect these animals in the wild.
(This is a guest blog written by Rutzen and his communications consultant/wife Maraika Van Wessem. Rutzen is one of the speakers at our event Man in Extreme Environment on Friday December 15. Buy your tickets here!)
In the past, when great whites have been confined in aquariums, many have suffered from extreme levels of stress, and simply withered away to become sick or die. It seems, to be sedentary, even with a good food supply, is simply not the optimum scenario for the mind and body.
The great white shark,is an incredibly powerful animal. It can travel for thousands of kilometres and even launch itself airborne when hunting. It is also an extremely important member of the ocean food chain. Although they are the ocean’s apex predator, still, very little is known about them.
Since 1994, I have been studying these majestic animals, up close from the boat, and by also swimming with them. I have had hundreds of close encounters, and what I have learned is that they have very complex social structure and that they are not the mindless predators they are portrayed to be in the movies.
In 2009, Dr. Sara Andreotti and I took to the sea, conducting Africa’s biggest ever study of the great white shark. We took genetic samples of over 260 animals, in combination with a population dynamic study, and discovered that they are extremely inbred when compared to Australian and Californian white sharks. Further to this low genetic diversity, there are probably only between 350 and 522 left around Africa.
Harmful methods for shark control and culling, including baited hooks and gill nets as well as poaching, has decimated great white shark numbers worldwide. And we need to stop these detrimental and yet ineffective management practices, before white sharks are completely wiped out and the ecological ocean balance dramatically changed.
Together with a team of scientists from Stellenbosch University and O’Seas Conservation Foundation, we have been developing the eco friendly SharkSafe Barrier, which imitates the look of a forest of kelp and utilises strong magnets to deter sharks from swimming beaches. With 100% success rate to date in deterring sharks, perhaps this is the solution we are looking for.
Ideally, we can offer an environment when man and shark can coexist, and this amazing animal can continue to hunt, migrate and reproduce in the wild.
Written by Mike Rutzen/Maraika Van Wessem (All images by Elsa Hoffman)